Here’s a recent talk I gave in a session on Future Documentary at a BBC Academy event. My focus was on crowd-funding, collaboration, and “connected documentary”.
Archive for the ‘Semantic Web’ Category
Tags: 18 Days in Egypt, BBC, BBC Academy, crowd-funding, Documentary, Highrise, HTML5, Popcorn Maker; Kickstarter, Sound it Out
Tags: 3WDoc, Honkylab, i-Docs 2012, Klynt, Mozilla, Mozilla Popcorn, Popcorn Maker
There are a couple of opportunities in England this month for some hands-on experimentation and learning with new tools for interactive and ‘”connected” documentary.
Following the i_Docs Symposium here in Bristol there will be two parallel day-long workshops on Saturday 24th with industry professionals from 3WDOC and HonkyLab. “The workshops will explore each company’s cutting-edge authoring software…you will get the opportunity to work closely with the creators of these new tools. HonkyLab and 3WDOC teams will spend the morning teaching participants how to use the tools and the rest of the day leading the development of collaborative projects using the tools. So participants get the most out of these workshops, the group sizes are going to be small so tickets are limited, Book now to ensure your place!”
These are precious opportunities if you’re interested in new directions for documentary.
Tags: Jeremy Mendes, Ken Jacobs, Lance Weiler, Leanne Allison, Mia Kirshner, National Film Board of Canada, NFB, Sundance
Just launched at Sundance, Bear 71 is a brilliant interactive documentary created by Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison with the NFB Digital Studio. It’s a haunting story told from the point-of-view of a female grizzly bear – Bear 71 – about humans and animals in the Banff National Park, and how animals are being devastated in that relationship. It’s about nature, technology, surveillance, and hubris. From the moment the worldweary voice-over started I was hooked.
“My own home range is around a town called Canmore. Now that town has doubled in size in the last decade. And it gets about five million tourists a year. Think of us as refugees, I guess… Thing is, you can take a grizzly out of the prairie but you can’t take the prairie out of the grizzly.”
The documentary draws on a wealth of photos and video from motion triggered cameras that Allison has gained access to – of bears, elks, foxes, tourists. It uses GPS data mapping. It cleverly mixes linear and non-linear experiences, with parts you have to watch, and time to explore, think and let the dreamy soundtrack wash over you. But listing the parts doesn’t do justice to the whole. It’s one of those pieces where the elements work just right, held together led by that terrific voice (Mia Kirshner),
“It was Bear 66 who taught me to stay away from the tracks…Because what’s the first law of survival? Don’t do what comes naturally. If you break that rule you become a statistic. Since 2000 17 grizzly bears have been killed on the Bow Valley due to railroad fatalities. …That’s one every five kilometres of track.”
The navigation isn’t always 100% clear to start with, but that’s fine. I was a little lost, but comfortable mooching around, exploring all the feeds, watching the animals, who we discover are really the ones who have lost their bearings in a ‘wilderness’ that’s been overtaken by humans and their traces. You get drawn in, metaphorically, then literally, via your webcam. Human 111871, that’s me. Once in a while you spot a fellow human, another viewer. I tried waving, but they didn’t see me. We were watchers, and watched, not doers, in this scenario.
Having to find my way made me think of Peter Dukes recent article on the role of the user [I so hate this term but what else is there?] in interactive documentary. He quotes the artist filmmaker Ken Jacobs, writing about found footage, and his dislike of being told what to make of things, “Better to just be pointed to the territory, to put in time exploring, roughing it, on our own.” Bear 71 manages a nice balancing act between openness and direction.
With its use of data and personalisation, the work pushes documentary boundaries in a number of directions. It also makes an interesting contribution to the genre of first-person [sic] documentary. Hovering close to fiction, the way the voice pulls you in recalls classic screen narrators – In a Lonely Place, the similarly post-deceased Kevin Spacey character in American Beauty, Blade Runner (sci-fi comes strongly to mind). It made me think about just what a powerful device voice can be in interactive documentary – addressing us in the intimate context of the personal screen.
For anyone at Sundance or in Utah in the next few months, there’s also an installation, made with Lance Weiler, at The Yard in Park City and at UMOCA (Utah Museum of Contemporary Art ) until April 19. Go if you can. I wish I could see that. Or check out the reactions on Twitter #bear71
Tags: "The Are You Happy Project", 18daysinegypt, Antoni Negri, Antoni Roig, Caroline Basset, Challenge for Change, David Evan Harris, ECREA, Elisenda Ardevol, Eric Raymond, Global Lives, Highrise, Isis Hjorth, Jon Dovey, Kat Cizek, Life in a Day, Mad V, Mapping Main Street, Millionth Tower, Mozilla Foundation, Nancy Thumim, one day on earth, perry bard, Semantic Documentary, The Johnny Cash Project, Trish Morgan, Video Nation, Wreckamovie
I’ve just been in Barcelona, at the ECREA (European Communication Research & Education Association) Digital Culture Workshop which looked at innovative practices and critical theories. It was a terrific gathering – small enough to get to know people, focussed enough to be productive – a great mix of conviviality and critical dialogue. (Thanks to the convenors, Caroline Basset and Elisenda Ardevol.)
I presented in the Creative Practices strand which was concerned with, “concepts of participation, co-creativity, co-design or co-innovation in creative processes involving audiences and independent creators in a wide spectrum of activities including art, photography, video, and videogames.” My paper offered a draft categorisation of the projects I write about here, according to the type of contribution made by the participants. I’ll give a brief summary of the four categories.
In “The Creative Crowd” model which covers work including Mad V’s The Message, and perry bard’s Man with a Movie Camera; the Global Remix, multiple participants contribute fragments to a highly templated whole, analogous to the separate panels within a quilt. The units of content may not make much sense on their own but value and meaning accrue as they come together producing a distinctive aesthetic that’s about energy and repetition. (Though not a documentary, The Johnny Cash Project is a prime example of this mode.)
In the second model, “The Participant Observers” are distributed filmmakers who each contribute to a work that’s concerned with contrasting experiences of place. The participants decide when and what they shoot and what story they want to tell, but their role in the final contextualisation of that content can vary dramatically. Participants may contribute rushes towards a linear whole that someone else edits, as in Life in a Day, or produce a stand-alone film, a considered narrative, for an interactive framework as in Mapping Main Street. Though filmed observation is as old as documentary I see the prevalence of these situated observers now as significant. What they bring is the potential for documentary “knowledge” that is grounded in experience – situated, embodied, affective. This mode is all about multiplicity, and when content is organised in a database the output can also be open-ended, produced through the interactive experience of the viewer / user.
The third mode I call “The Community of Purpose”. Here, a group of participants take part in a production with a shared objective around social change. They may be involved in making content but may have another role in the process, as the resident experts do in the Highrise project. These projects tend to be iterative rather than having a fixed trajectory. Global Lives and One Day on Earth are examples here. What’s fascinating in this category is that collaborative process – the dialogue and experiences involved in production - begin to be as important as product. There is a definite turn in this direction right now, though this way of working is not new in itself. Kat Cizek’s work at the National Film Board, in particular, is a deliberate re-working of Challenge for Change – the 1960s project which initiated Community Media. ( See earlier post on Cizek as Filmmaker in Residence.) For more on this group do take a look at my interviews with David Evan Harris (Global Lives) and Kat Cizek (Highrise). An open rights framework such as Global Lives has can then add another dimension of emergence as uses for the content can grow in a unrestricted way, driven by collaborators.
After I submitted the abstract for Barcelona I added a fourth category, which I call, The Traces of the Multitude. (Thanks to Jon Dovey for introducing me to Negri’s concept, here used somewhat ambiguously.) This category relates to “Semantic Documentary” - work that’s just emerging like the Highrise spin-off, One Millionth Tower, and 18DaysinEgypt. These projects introduce a new aspect to collaboration by drawing on social media content – linking to a multitude of, potentially anonymous, contributors. Here we can start to see documentary that is continually live and updating, with static video linked to live web data. (I’ve been working on an article with Jon Dovey about this work and the wider implications of the “Sea of Data” for documentary, in which I ponder my own experiments on the The Are you Happy? Project. I’ll write more about that here soon.)
It was lovely at ECREA to meet and hear from a number of scholars doing theoretical work on areas close to mine. I presented alongside Isis Hjorth, from the Oxford Internet Institute, whose PhD examines peer-production in the Wreckamovie community. Isis is asking whether accounts of peer-production have been over optimistic, and if these modes aren’t in fact closer to the managerial and bureaucratic modes of conventional production than has been suggested. The other panelist, Antoni Roig, is, with co-researchers Talia Leibovitz and Jordi Sanchez Navarro of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, examining the concepts and practices of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. Again, their interest is in getting behind assumptions about democratisation to understand the complexities of these practices.
The discussion after the panel circled around what is going on in the dynamics of participation. As Trish Morgan asked in a Tweet, “Who has final editorial say in a collaborative, crowdsourced, peer-produced work?” The answer varies, and the discussion made me realise that I need to tease this out and make some of my working assumptions more explicit. When I speak about collaboration I assume that the types of contributions people make, and the control they have, will be uneven; that not everyone will have the same stake or involvement, though the terms certainly need to be clear at the start. I think of collaboration as a relationship that can be productive even if it’s asymmetrical. This perspective comes from experiences in production going back to Video Nation, where the BBC provided production expertise, cameras, training, editing, and the BBC platform, and the participants brought their everyday life experiences, community contexts, their time, thought and their recordings. The co-creative relationship that existed in the first stage of the VN project (94-2000) – which was founded on participants right of veto over what was broadcast – produced documentary insights that were valuable to the audience – based on reviews and audience feedback – and, by various accounts, to the participants – see Nancy Thumim‘s research at the time. Though it is worth saying that Nancy produced a more critical commentary on institutional mediation in her later research which looked at Digital Storytelling including the Capture Wales project I was part of at that time, which will be reflected in her forthcoming book, Self-Representation and Digital Culture. (I do apologise for referring to the VN example so often, but it’s so relevant here. For another take on VN, and a substantial overview of this field, see Nico Carpentier’s Media & Participation, published earlier this year.)
Video Nation, and many of the projects I describe on this blog, are initiated and structured by professional producers. This is not to say that participants don’t make substantial contributions to meaning. But that’s another discussion… The producers are “context providers” but only sometimes “content providers”. They can be seen as “benevolent dictators” as Eric Raymond has described it, referring to the dominant mode of organisation in Open-Source Software development. Even the exceptional Global Lives, which as David Evan Harris describes in his recent interview is now run as a collective, is still substantially influenced by Harris’ orginal vision.
Isis Hjorth mentioned the idea that there is often a charismatic individual behind crowd-sourced projects. It’s an interesting suggestion and isn’t at odds with the producer model I’m describing. You need to be motivated to take part as a volunteer in a collaborative project, and Cizek and Harris, for example, are certainly inspirational figures. The idea makes sense in a particular way in the projects described in the Creative Crowd model above. Those examples come close to Fandom. They are not necessarily led by, but they each involve an iconic figure – Mad V, Johnny Cash – or an iconic work – Man with a Movie Camera. [If anyone isn't sure of the iconic status of Mad V- pictured above - I can assure you that the interview with him on this blog has consistently been the most viewed page - years after he bowed out of You Tube.] These are works of homage. Thinking of them in this way underlines how the dynamics of participation inter-relate with structures of feeling that are not new, and not necessarily egalitarian. (For a nice catalogue of organisational models see the slide below – from a session I recently attended at the Mozilla Festival – where structures for open working were under discussion.)
So the Barcelona workshop raised some important and engaging questions for me. Being there made me realise that I need to unpack some of my starting points, and consider my assumptions. Those four categories may prove productive in that thinking, and they may not. I suspect now that they try and capture too much, conflating production, participation and aspects of form which need disentangling. Another outcome from the workshop for me was that I want to think more about how value is distributed in these projects – about money and surplus value, yes, but also reputational value, the value of taking part, audience value, public value. Some ethnographic work on particular projects is really needed right now. So the ECREA workshop was productive, as well as fun. And there was lots of interesting work under discussion that I haven’t mentioned here. Do take a look at the abstracts, which are all available on the website.
Tags: Brett Gaylor, Kat Cizek, Mark Surman, Millionth Tower, Mozilla, Mozilla Foundation, National Film Board of Canada, One Millionth Tower, Open source, Popcorn Maker, popcorn.js, Wired
Mozilla’s mission, as Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, explained at the start of proceedings at the Mozilla Festival yesterday, is about building choice, freedoms and technologies into the web to make it a place where we can be makers, not just users. Mozilla are putting their supporters money where their mouth is, building these values in practice through open-source projects which began with the Firefox browser. The ethos of the Mozilla Festival is “less yack, more hack”, and the running order is made up of learning labs and workshops where projects are developed in a sprint. This years theme is “Media, Freedom and the Web”; the question, “what if media can be as open as hypertext has been?” and the open plan spaces of Ravensbourne College‘s RIBA award winning campus in North Greenwich, were abuzz yesterday (and will be today) with people working on ambitious, important projects including The Data Journalism Handbook - which will give aspiring journalists a toolkit for accessing and making sense of data available through the web. See the Festival site for the agenda and some of the coverage.
So there was a lot to be excited about at the Festival. Even so, the release of Mozilla’s Popcorn 1.0 – the HTML5 tool that “makes video work like the web” was the big story yesterday. If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll know about Popcorn – a tool for linking video to other web content – which has been in pre-release over the last year. (CollabDocs posts include Open Video Conference 2010). If not you can find out more in this backgrounder on Popcorn from Matt at Mozilla (thanks for the post title.)
Kat Cizek’s One Millionth Tower, a ground-breaking documentary spin-off from the Highrise project, is made with open-source tools – Popcorn and Web GL (which enables the interactive generation of 3D graphics). It premiered at the Festival last night. (Unfortunately I had to leave early but experienced the hoopla via my Twitter feed on the train home. ) You can see it in linear form, more importantly explore it (you’ll need Chrome or Firefox) now on Wired.com. This is surely the first time the magazine has led on a documentary story, which underlines the significance of this moment for the moving image.
As Wired puts it; One Millionth Tower, ”is not just a static story recorded on film and then edited together for audiences. It exists in a 3-D setting made possible by a tool called three.js, which lets viewers walk around the high-rise neighborhood. Moving through allows viewers to see the current state of urban decay, then activate elements to show ways the residents would change their world, like an animation showing where a new playground or garden would go.
The interactive movie is chock-full of photos from Flickr, street-views from Google Maps and changing environments fueled by real-time weather data from Yahoo. Everything is triggered by Popcorn.js, which acts like a conductor signalling which instruments play at what times.”
Brett Gaylor, filmmaker and Mozilla lead on the Popcorn project has said, “This is the moment where web video grows up as an artistic medium. In the same way that earlier film pioneers experimented with new techniques like montage, we’re now seeing ‘web-made movies’ that pull in real time information from the web.”
One Millionth Tower isn’t a totally slick product. It’s not an end in itself, but it involves significant innovation which has come about through a happy confluence of open-source politics, some very talented people, and imaginative investment by Mozilla and the National Film Board of Canada. Cizek explained how the approach emerged in an interview with CollabDocs a few months ago. There’s lots more background on One Millionth Tower on Wired. Check out the Open Technology video for an explanation of the open-source technologies involved in the piece. But let’s not forget the theme of urban life and community which is the subject of One Millionth Tower, and the inspiring collaborative approach to documentary production which the project reflects. This is Cizek and her team reinventing documentary for social change as a 21st century practice. (Read more about how Cizek was hired by the National Film Board of Canada to rework the seminal Challenge for Change project here.)
As Cizek says in the Open Technology video, “The philosophy behind open-source technology is that the technology is all of ours to own. That’s exactly the philosophy behind all the projects of Highrise. One Millionth Tower is about us owning our urban space and having the power and the vision to transform it.”
The Popcorn 1.0 release includes the Popcorn Maker, an easy to use authoring tool. Try it, you’ll be linking your video to other web content in moments. We have been used to video sitting on the web within a player, aloof from the linked and networked character of its environment. Popcorn changes that. Seeing it in action on your own video content is the best way of getting a feel for why this matters for documentary.
Tags: 18 Days in Egypt, Afghan Lives, Brett Gaylor, Dadaab Stories, Frontline Club, HTML5, Kat Cizek, Mozilla Foundation, Open Video Conference, The Tillman Story Interactive Edition
Tags: "The Are You Happy Project", 18daysinegypt, Highrise, HTML5, James Burns, Jesse Shapins, Kara Oehler, Kat Cizek, Mapping Main Street, Mozilla, Open Video Conference, popcorn.js, Rebellious Pixels, Web Made Movies, Zeega
It’s this year’s Open Video Conference (OVC) in NYC this weekend. “Open video is the movement to promote free expression and innovation in online video.” I was there last year and it was a great event, very relevant to my work, and this year’s lineup is no less strong.
There are two projects on the programme which I’m particularly interested in. There’s a workshop on Popcorn.js – an open HTML5 platform, created by Mozilla’s Web Made Movies team, which allows producers to relate video to other web data – which I’m going to be working with this Autumn. The Popcorn project has really moved on since the Beta version I mentioned here last year. They’ve built Butter now, an authoring tool to make Popcorn accessible, and producers have created a number of demos that explore its potential. Rebellious Pixels make perfect use of Popcorn as an annotation engine, to reveal the sources of the content in this brilliant Donald Duck remix. In Happy World, it’s used to provide additional context and information to a documentary about the Burmese Junta. In a rougher state, but tantalising for its documentary potential, is a proof of concept for 18DaysinEgypt, the crowd-sourced documentary that’s being made from the media that people produced during the revolution in Egypt back in January / February of this year. The 18Days team have used Popcorn to create overlays offering details within a shot, which they have tested on footage of a demonstration, and it looks like a very powerful way of depicting the dynamics of those unfolding events. And there’s more Popcorn in the pipeline. Kat Cizek described to me in her recent interview how the Highrise team are using it to offer footnotes and semantic references within a 3D animated environment on their latest sub-project The Millionth Tower.
Over the last few months I’ve been gathering video contributions from collaborators for The Are you happy? project and there are quite a collection now – from Serbia, Scotland, Maharastra, Tasmania and elsewhere. Do take a look at the project gallery and the Vimeo group. The sequences are fascinating, and feel like micro-portraits of the places they come from. Taken together they raise lots of questions about happiness, and point up the interview as a social construct, with the interviewer’s style, and the context - Ugandan market, Bristol fashion school, Mongolian capital city square - clearly playing a big part in the kind of things that get said.
This Autumn I’ll be looking at how I can use Popcorn to inform and add other layers of meaning to this content. I want to see how contextual data combines with the video, and try creating some annotations. What really interests me is how web data can be used in a poetic way, creating a montage effect which with live data will be dynamic. Right now I’m wondering what kinds of data and annotation might work in this way – happiness indices? news feeds? weather info? poetry? psychology? One reason I’m sorry to miss the Open Video Conference is that it would be an opportunity to knock these questions around with others who’ve been thinking about how Popcorn can work. If that’s you, or if these questions particularly interest you do please get in touch.
Another ambitious project that will be showcased at the OVC is Zeega – “an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries and inventing new forms of storytelling. Zeega will make it easy to collaboratively produce, curate and publish participatory multimedia projects online, on mobile devices and in physical spaces.” Zeega first got a mention here last year when it was very early days for the project. It’s being developed by Kara Oelher, Jesse Shapins and James Burns, the team behind Mapping Main Street, and they’ve recently won a prestigious award which will support them in the next stages of the development. There’s an interview on the Open Video Conference site about how Zeega is progressing, and an invitation to sign up if you’re interested in creating a Zeega pilot project.
“Will video be woven into the fabric of the open web? Or will online video become a glorified TV-on-demand service? Open Video is a movement to promote free expression and innovation in online video through open standards, open source, and sharing.” These are the questions and the mission behind the OVC and the Conference is about building the policy, rights framework, technology and creative ideas that will support accessible and open web video. Tools like Zeega and Popcorn are really significant in that undertaking, allowing producers without coding skills to produce video projects for and of the web, so that we can begin to see what’s possible when the immersive world of video meets the network landscape of the web.
Tags: Brett Gaylor, Data Mining, Global Lives, Henry Jenkins, HTML5, Katerina Cizek, Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day, Man with a Movie Camera, Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remix, one day on earth, Out my Window, perry bard, Quilts, Ridley Scott, The Johnny Cash Project, Trebor Scholz, YouTube
Happy New Year. I’m kicking off the year with some thoughts and questions prompted by looking back on 2010.
I’ve noted a flurry of global projects this past year as producers have taken advantage of participatory video and the online network to reflect daily life. The most interesting to me is the ongoing Global Lives project which attempts to counter a lack of global coverage in North America with a detailed reflection of 24 hours in some typical daily lives around the world (posts in July and November). I’ll be interviewing David Evan Harris, founder of Global Lives, for this blog later this week. Two other projects underway are attempting to synthesise crowd-sourced content shot around the world in a single day into linear documentaries. The blockbuster You Tube based feature documentary Life in a Day, being made by Oscar winners Kevin MacDonald and Ridley Scott, (posts in July and October ) chose July for filming, while the NGO sponsored One Day on Earth on Vimeo (post in October) opted for 10:10:10. The jury’s out on these as neither is yet complete though Life in a Day is nearly there and will be released in January.
In the most recent in a series of videos promoting Life in a Day, director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker talk about the process of making sense of the more than 5,000 hours of user generated video that their call to action generated. Despite the challenge presented by the sheer quantity of material MacDonald says that working with You Tube content has been great, giving them unusual artistic freedom to shape the work as they choose, a “purity of motivation” as he calls it, without a financier pushing for a product that will recoup his investment. It’s an enviable position for a documentary maker to be in. But as the participatory mode starts to get established in the industry we are going to have to think about the economics of these projects and ask at what point volunteer effort becomes unpaid labour, collaboration becomes exploitation. As Trebor Scholz puts it, in his trenchant criticism of what he calls “Playbour” (Play + Labour) in the digital economy, “free comes at a price”.
Scholz’s thought resonates for me in thinking about another of the year’s creative themes – the use of Data Mining to personalise the user experience in music videos. Arcade Fire’s video for “We Used to Wait”, The Wilderness Downtown (September post) made well-judged use of this affordance incorporating footage of the viewer’s own family home – courtesy of Google Maps and Street View – to create a moving exploration of growing up, memory and identity. In December, the Japanese band Sour followed up their 2009 hit Hibi No Nieiro, with its virtuoso use of crowd-sourced webcams, with Mirror, which features data-mined content. The interactive video was produced by Masashi Kawamura, who was also behind the 2009 video, in less than a month, with $5,000 raised on the mass funding platform for creative projects Kickstarter (the success of which is itself a noteworthy story of 2010).
Mirror combines band footage with content drawn in (with permission) from the users social networks, along with other material that’s freely available. Try it here. It’s a cleverly realised piece that’s been much admired (“absolutely wild“,”very cool“) but it backfired for me. Seeing my photos, content about me found through search, and even routes I’d walked when visiting friends and family on holiday (revealed by my phone location) woven into the video gave me a distinctly queasy feeling, as it graphically illustrated just how accessible all that personal information is. Here’s one person’s version:
There’s a gathering disquiet about the implications of all the data we’ve been giving away more and less unwittingly in our dealings online, data which is being monetised and potentially scrutinised. Data Mining and Dataveillance are emerging as major political issues for the next decade. Yet all this material is also a rich creative resource. I’m sure we’ll see an immediate explosion of projects imitating Mirror and The Wilderness Downtown, but I can imagine a backlash too, with personal content becoming a no-go area.
Both the Arcade Fire and Sour videos are made possible by HTML5, the latest version of the hypertext coding language, which integrates video into web pages rather than show it from a separate media player. These two experiments suggest how HTML5 is going to have a profound effect on video online – transforming it in the context of the emerging Semantic Web from a media which has been isolated from other web elements into an integrated part of the web – “semantic video” or ”hypervideo” as it’s been called.
Brett Gaylor and his associates in the open source Web Made Movies project at Mozilla have been busy experimenting with semantic video in 2010. (Posts in September and October ) They’ve created the popcorn.js library and a number of rapid fire demos exploring popcorn’s potential for web documentary. In early 2011 they’ll be adding Butter to Popcorn as Gaylor explains on Tumblr. Butter is a graphical interface that allows filmmakers to create popcorn pages linking their video to other web content. Meanwhile further work on popcorn.js is underway to make it more open and useable. You can keep track of developments at Web Made Movies.
Two of my favourite pieces of the year – The Johnny Cash Project (August and November) and Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake (October) – show us what a crowd-sourced aesthetic can be. In an interview when she was nominated for the You Tube Play awards, artist Perry Bard explains how she abandoned her original idea to remake Vertov’s seminal 1929 documentary herself shot by shot as “truly boring”. Man with a Movie Camera is such an inventive, energetic, ecstatic piece – a celebration of the city, modernity and the potential of cinema itself – that it is hard to imagine how one individual could dream up a remake that wouldn’t look dull in comparison. So Bard, an experienced producer of collaborative public art, threw that thought out in favour of the unpredictable strategy of crowd-sourcing. She didn’t know what would come of it, but she committed herself to an open approach, with rules never to upload anything herself, and never to get rid of anything. Her leap of faith was richly rewarded with the submission of hundreds of Vertov-inspired contributions, ”a collision course of one-night stands, people from all over the world, Bangkok next to Beirut” as she says, which turn out to be the perfect match for the heady rush of the original.
In a similar way, the aggregated frames of The Johnny Cash Project (August and November posts), each drawn by a devoted fan, collectively make a big enough statement to memorialise the epic talent of “The Man in Black”. Again, one person’s homage might have been nice, but there’s a pitch of energy that the crowd brings, when each participant has committed themselves creatively to their own contribution. These projects work artistically as a quilt does, where an accumulation of contrast becomes a pattern with an aesthetic coherence of its own.
Quilting’s been on my mind this year as a metaphor and precursor of digital collaborative work and the excellent Quilts exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum was one of my cultural highlights (July). Henry Jenkins drew my attention to another contemporary characteristic of quilting in November, when he memorably kicked off his opening remarks at the DIY Citizenship Conference in Toronto; “My grandmother was a Remix artist…”
Finally, I think online documentary came of age this year, with Katerina Cizek’s “Out My Window” (November) which brought us first person insights into the lives of suburban highrise dwellers – with form and content working together just right.
There’s no reason to think developments in 2011 will be any less interesting. I’m looking forward to it.
Tags: Clay Shirky, Kate Ray, Semantic Web, Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Consortium
I’m working on a proposal for a project that experiments with the Semantic Web and just came across Kate Ray‘s informative, witty documentary on the subject. It’s an engaging overview featuring key players, and reveals the philosophical disputes around this emerging generation of web technology. It’s makes nice use of music too – I particularly love the klezmer in the intro. It also makes me think that I’d probably better update this blog’s tagline.Watch and enjoy!